Authentic Ireland or the tourist haunts? Every year more and more discerning travelers to Ireland are opting to visit the real country, rather than just climbing aboard the endless bus trails with the tourist hordes and never actually meeting a local.

Sure, paddling your own canoe can present more challenges to begin with – where to stay, how to get there – but the rich rewards make it worth it. The charm of Ireland is its landscape and its people, and the best way to discover them is to go and visit the places they actually live.

Given a choice between a 500-bedroom super-hotel on a private estate or a cozy Irish hostelry in the country with an attentive chef and an open fire, which would you choose?

There’s no question that a lot of tourists find the beaten path and a trusted tour guide just the ticket, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But going your own route rather than relying on a familiar tour operator will actually take you closer to the real Ireland – and the locals - and it often makes good financial sense too.

The good thing about Ireland is that it needn’t be a wrenching decision - there’s a venue for every type of traveler. The fact is that the tourism industry in Ireland has undergone nothing short of a revolution in the past 20 years. In order to compete internationally, the standards have taken off in terms of accommodation, facilities, attractions and dining options. Wherever you go, you’ll be treated like a king.

For these reasons, in survey after survey tourist satisfaction is remarkably high, with international visitors returning to Ireland again and again for an experience they know will be both memorable and terrific value for money (especially now that the recession has dramatically lowered prices).

So, to help you pick a theme for your vacation to Ireland, IrishCentral has created the following list of 10 great Irish holiday suggestions:

1. Gourmet Ireland

You read that right. Ireland is often unfairly lumped in with Britain as the ground zero of truly horrifying cooking. Nothing could be further from the truth. Take a food tour of the emerald isle and you will encounter organically grown, locally sourced vegetables, dairy, breads and meats that a new generation of Irish chefs have sourced and cooked to delight your senses.

2. Historical Ireland

Few small island nations have played a larger role in the history of the world than Ireland. Keepers of literacy and learning during the Dark Ages, the Irish once saved civilization after the fall of the Roman Empire by keeping learning alive and relighting its flame in Europe.

3. Literary Ireland

The Irish love literature and the Irish love to laugh, so odds on if you take a literary tour of Ireland you’ll have the time of your life as you increase your store of knowledge (the Irish symbol of knowledge is the quicksilver, darting salmon). Producing writers as diverse and yet recognizably Irish as Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Brian Friel and Oscar Wilde, the Irish are obviously as interested in style as much as substance. One thing’s for sure, if you take one of these tours, you’ll be back for more, often.

4. Spas and Wellness Ireland

Ireland is undergoing a spa renaissance.  Aromatherapy, whole-body work, wraps, many kids of massage techniques, steam rooms and saunas, showers that mist you with the scent of essential oils, and many spas are built natural mineral hot springs. Expect a view of a peaceful wooded glen, a lake, or a stream burbling past your window.

5. Honeymoons and Get Away Ireland

Romantic Ireland’s alive and well. In fact, there are few landscapes on earth more beguiling – just the light on the water and the intoxicatingly fresh air will have you on tip top form from the moment you arrive. With Ireland’s history of romance, coupled with wild, wind-blown walks, ancient castles and prehistoric sites, wide, empty beaches and lovely lakes; it’s impossible to visit without feeling the tug of romance.

6. Outdoor Adventure Ireland

The Irish are huge sports fanatics.  This translates into a lot of outdoor activities, from soft to fairly extreme (have you ever see a girls camogie team face their opponents?).  No matter what your outdoor passion you’ll find it here.  Have a craving to learn something new? Now is the time, and Ireland is most definitely the place.

7. Off the Beaten Track Ireland

Instead of buses or minibuses, why not travel a little lighter to explore areas far beyond the reach of normal tours? Leave the road behind and drive along beaches, through rivers or up the muddy tracks; walk in the mountains, surf in the Atlantic, ride a horse or play golf. In the process you’ll discover ancient ruins, learn about pirate queens, retrace the steps of pilgrims or search for your ancestors. And at the end of the day a roaring fire, some music, great food and a pint. What could be better than that?

8. Eco-Tourism Ireland

Ecotourism may be a recent travel concept, but it has a long history in Ireland where small-scale, sustainable, culturally sensitive and nature-based eco-escapes have evolved naturally around the country’s wild landscape.
 Ireland’s natural beauty has always been its biggest attraction, with misty green mountains, a lush interior and wild craggy coastlines attracting everyone from serious climbers, cyclists and surfers to gentle ramblers, history buffs and wildlife spotters. And even now that tourism is a multi-million Euro industry, locals and tourists alike are fighting to keep Ireland true to its green roots.

9. Rural Ireland

Rural Ireland has been fighting the growing trend for tourists to spend long weekends in Dublin with a plan to woo visitors to the country’s hidden gems. The European trend for mini-breaks of three or four days in cities, like Dublin, Cork or Galway has been hurting the more remote outposts so this is your chance to experience the real Ireland at bargain prices.

10. Musical Ireland

Is there any way to separate the Irish from music?  When you hear Irish music, your body wants to move.  It’s not surprising that traditional Irish dance has not only made a huge comeback in Ireland, it’s finding its way around the globe. Come to Ireland’s capital city of Dublin and experience a world of music, dance and inspiration to replenish your senses.